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May 16, 2007 08:38 PM

Good intentions poor follow through: how do you deal with it?

One of the major sections of the remodel is almost finished and I'd love to have a couple of summer parties. The groups of people I hang out with love to cook so making everything myself is out of the question. We've had some great dinner parties because it seems like everyone is very inspired foodwise and they always bring amazing food. Unfortunately, two friends from different circles have become unreliable. At first it was simple things like not making enough salad or substituting rice milk for regular milk in a bechamel sauce. I have noticed over the past year they both have become worse. I don't want to ban these people from parties but I do have qualms about relying on them to follow through. Do I give them simple tasks like bringing something from a bakery? Should I offer to coach them through their preparation of their contributions? Should I prepare a standby dish just in case I need to fill the gap they have created? Or should I leave the subject alone altogether and not be such a control freak? Any opinions are welcome.

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  1. Ooh, whatever you do, DON'T offer to coach, especially with people who love to cook. Because that's like saying you don't think their cooking is all that great, which may be true but not nice to say to a friend, much less your *guest*.

    How about asking them what they would most like to bring? Maybe the past issues were more because they didn't know how to handle their assignment. Or if they did pick those disasters in the past, in your hostesshood count their future contributions as half. (i.e. if they make salad, make/buy another yourself to make sure your party is covered)

    But above all, keep in mind that the best cooking parties are about the people. Invite people whose company you enjoy. Quietly fill in for your guests when they come up short to make sure that everyone feels welcome, appreciated and happy.

    And if you really don't like what others are cooking despite their best intentions, invite people for an explicit dinner party, your treat. i.e make placecards, tell people to arrive 7:30 pm sharp and prepare and plate the food yourself.

    1. Can you find out what they do well and have them major in that? Coaching should be left to those who seek a coach -- in other words, don't offer. Can they buy/bring wine? That one is easy to cover with a backup if it is truly terrible.

      Sometimes, you have to bite the bullet and enjoy friends for what they do well and not how well they cook. As my sainted grandmother used to remind me, "everyone chooses one room of the house in which to excell." Maybe your friends didn't choose the kitchen.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        All basically the right ideas here I think. The "have a backup" plan is a very good one. If you ask one of them to bring a salad, get some bags of greens or a large container or mesclun to have stashed in the fridge, just in case. That sort of thing. As mojo says, leave it be, but plan accordingly.

        1. re: Sherri

          They choose their own dishes and have asked for my input on preparation. One of the friends two bugged me for days on finger sandwich ideas and prep and ended up bringing frozen mini quiches instead.

          I like the rooms of the house analogy. It keeps the whole thing in perspective.

          1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

            Hmm, we had a similar situation recently where someone was assigned to bring fruit salad for a shower, asked for the recipe... then brought a (very ordinary) purchased fruit plate. I was not surprised knowing that to her, the fruit plate was the same thing - or even better, because she spent money on it. But the organizer was surprised, and pissed off. She really wanted that particular fruit salad for this event, and those kinds of details are important to her.

            I felt stuck in the middle because I saw the whole situation coming, and I understand both points of view.

            So I think you can make the suggestion, answer the questions, etc... but you really can't control the results. And it's not worth getting upset about. Let others make their comments, maybe they'll sink in with the perpetrators - but you're not responsible for either side's happiness.

            Although I wonder if the quiche person might be neurotic/insecure about the food prep? If their questions annoy you (it would annoy me if I suspected the end result would be frozen quiche!), just brush them off "oh bring whatever you like, it'll be fine, we just want to see you!" etc.

          2. re: Sherri

            Whew, your grandmother was spicy! I like it.

            On topic, asking people to bring wine is a great solution.

          3. I'd say leave it alone. They are your friends and they love to cook, so let them. If you can ask them to bring simpler additions to the party, that might work. But if you do it every time they'll know something is up. It's a party and is all about friendship and fun. If one or two dishes aren't great, big deal.

            1. Tough problem.

              One question - when they use "rice milk in the bechamel" (or something similar) do other guests notice the lessened quality?

              When they start using "Egg Beaters," ditch 'em - life's too short to eat Egg Beaters. Or rice milk, for that matter.

              8 Replies
              1. re: wayne keyser

                The rice milk sub was noticable because the other entree was a lot better. Other friends have started noticing my friend's lack of follow through. We tend to plan around each others contributions and when she gets all hot and heavy about making a beet salad but brings a vegetable side dish instead I sense others are somewhat disappointed. One friend even said 'oh, if I knew, I would have made the salad instead'.

                1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                  How about sending out an email the day before/day of event that details the menu according to who is bringing what. Therefore, if friend A has said he/she will bring beet salad, he/she will know what everyone is expecting and will cook/prepare accordingly.

                  1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                    It sounds like your gatherings are more about the food than the people! These are your friends, people you choose to invite to your home and spend time with. Presumably, you care about these people and enjoy their company. Does it really matter if their entree wasn't as good as the other one or they brought a vegetable dish instead of a beet salad?

                    I am more food obsessed than anyone I know, but at the end of the day it's the friendships that count more than anything else.

                    1. re: hrhboo

                      Ditto. The only way to control the food that comes into your house is to make it all yourself. That is your other option.

                      1. re: Ellen

                        Ditto to you and hrhboo.

                        And to Wayne Keyser ("When they start using "Egg Beaters," ditch 'em - life's too short to eat Egg Beaters. Or rice milk, for that matter."): I pray that you never have health/dietary problems that require you to make ingredient substitutions. My brother has had kidney stones for over 35 years, and has to limit the amount of calcium, so no real milk for him . I have my own issues, so egg beaters are a must.

                        For me, entertaining is all about friends and the joy I get from opening my home to them. When it becomes more about the food, then I'll treat them to a great meal in a restaurant.

                      2. re: hrhboo

                        No hrhboo the gatherings are about the people, I wouldn't be contemplating having a party in the first place if people didn't mattered. These are just two people out of a few dozen people.

                        1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                          So what you are basically saying is that you have an issue with the way these 2 people deal with food-related aspects of your gathering - i.e they don't bring "amazing food" like everyone else. I guess your only options are to accept that their dishes won't be the best (which shouldn't matter too much since you call them your friends and it shouldn't be all about the food), or if you can't look past this then you shouldn't invite them.

                          1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                            I was referring to those two people, not the whole bunch. If you like them enough to call them your friends then the fact that they sub rice milk shouldn't even be an issue.

                    2. Do you think these couple of people love hanging out with you and your friends but don't really love food the way you all do in the same way you do? My friends don't have expectations of me like that, but I can see myself totally as a person who would do some of the things mentioned because on the flip side, I'm happy that people are bringing food to my house, so I assume others are too without worrying about what the results are. Happy as in I don't have to do the cooking, and they are reliable enough to bring something similar to what they promised rather than completely change (my friends are flaky; maybe I don't care that much). Just wondering (about my first sentence).

                      In one example above regarding the fruit salad, I can see myself doing the same thing. I don't want to be stressed out with "should I try out the recipe and have it not work out and either have it taste bad or I throw it all out and waste money" or "should I just buy it?" I bet in the end I would just buy it, even though I asked for the recipe. I really would not have thought anything of it (such as disappointing the organizer, obligating myself to make it because I asked for the recipe).